Friday, August 22, 2014

Worshiping/viewing music as God

A correspondent wrote over email (edited extract follows), and provided approval for it to be shared publicly:

Music has this tremendous power - it is the ONLY thing that is common to all cultures of the world (past, present, future) - and it comprises just 7 pure (shuddha) notes and 5 flat (komal or tivra) notes.

If it is one god we talk about - then nowhere is this in evidence except in music.  Religions and spiritualists fight over their version of god - musicians do not - they have their ONE god - the 12 notes (swaras).

I think MUSIC is the true god :-)

--- end correspondent message edited extract---

My response (edited):

Great man, please enjoy the/your true music God. In my case, some of the beliefs (not full blown experience) that guide my life are drawn from the Upanishads which say that all is God - Isha Vasyam Idam Sarvam! [Isha/Brahman/God lives/permeates all this (world).] What is not God? How a person expresses his/her worship/visualization of God - through music/as music, through/as poetry, through/as idols symbolizing some values/gods, through/as emotions like love, joy and peace - is their choice, IMHO.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why Sathya Sai Baba following will be acceptable to people at large including atheists; Few additional thoughts on religious followings and society

I recently had a mail conversation with a USA correspondent who seems to be an atheist and a "secular humanist", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism. From this wiki page, (the following It refers to Secular Humanism) "It posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. It does not, however, assume that humans are either inherently evil or innately good, nor does it present humans as being superior to nature. Rather, the humanist life stance emphasizes the unique responsibility facing humanity and the ethical consequences of human decisions. Fundamental to the concept of secular humanism is the strongly held viewpoint that ideology—be it religious or political—must be thoroughly examined by each individual and not simply accepted or rejected on faith. Along with this, an essential part of secular humanism is a continually adapting search for truth, primarily through science and philosophy. Many Humanists derive their moral codes from a philosophy of utilitarianism, ethical naturalism, or evolutionary ethics, and some, such as Sam Harris, advocate a science of morality."

During that conversation I tried to convey how the Sathya Sai fraternity will be acceptable to people at large including atheist-humanists as a peaceful and helpful group. I thought readers may want to have a look at some extracts of my part of the conversation which are given below (in a slightly edited form):

My (Sathya Sai Baba followers) spiritual group/fraternity focuses primarily on attempts to internalize and practice the spiritual/ethical/moral values of Truth (Hindu word for it: Sathya), Ethical Conduct as interpreted/taught by Hindu religious teachers including Sri Sathya Sai Baba which also typically follows the law of the land but goes beyond it (Dharma), Peace (Shanti) and Love (Prema). While the source of these teachings may not be acceptable to some, the teachings itself of Truth, Ethical Conduct, Peace and Love, will be acceptable to most genuine/enlightened spiritual leaders & groups, genuine humanists including atheist-humanists, most judicial systems & governments, as well as people at large. [The Sathya Sai Baba following also has a fifth value of Non-violence (Ahimsa) but I am not so clear about the following's interpretation of it, especially in the context of Mahatma Gandhi's Ahimsa, and so I have not mentioned it here.]

An important addition to the above is my group's belief in the Law of Karma as well as reincarnation (based on Hindu beliefs reinforced by 'revelations' from Sri Sathya Sai Baba) which essentially says: as you sow so shall you reap. This reaping (of good/bad fruits of good/bad actions) may happen in this birth or a future birth. [There are some exceptions to it too]. This belief gives us added motivation to steer clear of bad/evil actions and try to do good actions. Once again, many may not accept this law of karma, but our group's attempts to steer away from bad/evil/hurtful-to-others actions and engagement in good/helpful-to-others actions, will be acceptable to people at large.

....

The extracts below deal with religious followings and society at large (not specific to Sathya Sai Baba following)

On parents influencing children to believe many seemingly strange (religious) matters especially when supported by a community:

My view is that if these values are benign religious/ethical values that is fine. However, if they are malicious values promoting hatred and murder, I consider that to be a tremendous perversion of human life given the great potential human life has towards the good, the kind, the beautiful, the noble and the uplifting. [It must also be said that some atheist-humanists believe in and work for these positive and constructive goals/aspects, and some famous atheist-humanists inspire atheists as well as theists with their positive and constructive work.]

...

My view is that any religious sect whose leaders literally interpret their religious scripture to demand killing of others who are not from their faith, except in self-defense, is not a benign religious sect and is a threat to multi-religion society.

It seems to me that the leaders of most religious groups today in countries like India as well as Europe and the USA disregard the parts of their scripture demanding hurting/killing of others from different faiths even though they may not openly state those parts to be wrong especially in today's multi-religious and multi-cultural, and deeply interconnected and interdependent world. So, in effect, the groups led by these religious leaders are not malicious or dangerous. They may consider their sect and/or religion to be the only true religion but they do not support physical attacks on people of other sects and religions - so they are not a threat to society at large.

...

My view is that Christians who literally interpret Christian scripture including the Old Testament common to Christians and Jews, if I got that right, and so do not believe in evolution and believe that the world is 6000 years old, should be viewed as somewhat misguided people. But so long as they do not attack people of other religions or no-religion (agnostics & atheists), as far as I am concerned, they are not a malicious or dangerous group. Further, if they try to follow Jesus' teachings of Love Thy neighbour and turning the other cheek towards all people irrespective of their faith or no-faith, I would consider them to be a useful contributor to the community.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Google search results for Sathya Sai Baba miracles

Google search for the term, sathya sai baba miracles, gives the first page of results having 9 positive (view of Sathya Sai Baba's miracles) or neutral result links and 1 skeptic link (media report and not an anti-sai site).  The second page of results has 7 positive or neutral result links and 3 negative links including anti-Sai sites. [BTW I did the search from my PC in Puttaparthi using anonymous (incognito) Chrome browser window to avoid any personalization of search results.]

So for general Google search users for Swami's miracles, the rankings seem fair to me given the widespread belief in Swami's miracles - the positive and neutral sites being given prominence but the critical sites also being provided.

Google search for the term, sathya sai baba miracles scientific investigation, sadly has the first three results from anti-Sai sites with articles critical of Prof. Haraldsson's, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erlendur_Haraldsson, investigations on Swami's miracles.

However, the seventh result is Haraldsson's book link and the eighth result is the wiki page on Haraldsson. The other eight links including the above three seem to be of the negative kind.

The fourth and fifth result links in the next page (i.e. the 14th and 15th ranked results) are goodreads.com and amazon.com review links of Haraldsson's book (Modern Miracles:The Story of Sathya Sai Baba: A Modern Day Prophet, http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Miracles-Story-Sathya-Prophet/dp/190873325X), both of which have my review. So, somebody who is keen to get both views of the matter would probably come across my review which, of course, backs Haraldsson's view that most of the miracles he investigated have to be accepted as genuine from a quantity of human testimony and consensus of (reliable) witnesses point of view, even if direct scientific experiments were not conducted and so cannot be proven/accepted as genuine from a science perspective. [Here's the review on my blog: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2013/09/review-of-modern-miracles-story-of.html]

Google search for the term, sathya sai baba miracles parapsychology investigation, gives the first two results from anti-sai sites critical of Haraldsson's work, and then has Haraldsson book link, Haraldsson's wiki and amazon.com customer review. So it is somewhat better for this search term.

Why is it that Haraldsson's book link does not appear as the first result link for these two terms? That is what would be appropriate. After all Haraldsson is the leading scientific researcher into Swami's miracles, and so Google search users for these terms should ideally be presented with his book link first.

The critics/anti-Sai sites are nowhere close to Haraldsson in terms of academic/scientific reputation.

I think there is a bias among scientifically-inclined Google search users to choose the skeptic result links. The majority of these users may want to read that Swami's miracles are not genuine! Google search may be recording that users who use these queries, prefer these links as against the book link and perhaps its algorithm then pushes up these popular result links upwards in the result ranking.

Now I am not saying that Google search users for these terms should not see the skeptic links at all. It is a free world and especially on the Internet everyone has a right to express his/her view and have that seen. But surely, the researcher who has spent years investigating these miracles and interviewing devotees should be given top priority in the results, before that of his casual critics.

Can one say that this indicates that most general (common) Internet users who are interested in such matters, seem to have a positive view of Swami's miracles but that most Internet user scientists and scientifically-oriented persons have a negative view? As I do not know how exactly Google search ranking is done, I don't think I can draw such indications/conclusions. However I would not be surprised if that is how it really is. It is the scientific community and the scientifically-oriented community at large where a majority, especially in the Western world, refuses to accept the possibility that Swami's miracles could be genuine! Sure, they cannot accept that it is scientifically proven as genuine as they have not been performed under scientifically controlled conditions but that does not lead to the conclusion that they are not genuine/cannot be genuine.

Thankfully, in the larger picture of humanity as a whole, such closed-mind-to-miracles scientists and scientifically-oriented people constitute a minority. The majority of humanity is willing to go by faith in God (as viewed by various religions & sects) and His power to perform miracles that transcend normal laws of nature, and the larger 'miracle' of showering His Grace on believers by filling them with love, joy & peace.

In this context, I would like to mention a detailed mail conversation I had a couple or so years ago (after Swami's Mahasamadhi) with a leading US computer science academic & industry figure who was in the skeptic camp, on Swami's miracles. He was simply unwilling to even read Haraldsson's book. He was more interested in trying to show me that I was on the wrong track!!! He was trying to get me to read Dawkins' "The God Delusion" book instead. I stoutly refused to do so as I felt that the title of the book itself was outrageous. [Readers may want to see my blog post, “The God Delusion”. What Does it Really Mean?]. After seeing that I was capable of keeping up my end in the argument and was not going to cave in, he gave up on that matter, quite politely, I must say. He still responds to some mails of mine on education and we have a decent "email relationship".

His stand, which I think is what many leading skeptical scientists have, was that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As Swami did not permit testing under controlled conditions there was no evidence acceptable to science. [I don't understand why so many videos I have seen of Swami materializations are not accepted as evidence! Haraldsson does mention some issues with video evidence but even with some issues I think the video evidence is very worthy of examination.] So no claims about Swami's powers could be accepted. He also mentioned James Randi's 1 million dollar prize to anybody to perform paranormal acts. Since he was a very senior person I did not ridicule him mentioning this 1 million dollars stuff - really evolved spiritual people, let alone Purna Avatars like Swami, cannot be bought by money - not 1 million dollars, not 1 billion dollars and not even 1 trillion dollars! What is money to them!

In my considered view, such an approach that completely rejects miracles due to lack of extraordinary evidence is a very blinkered approach. Haraldsson's approach where he looks at how legal systems view such matters is a much more realistic approach. I mean, sure one can say that unless extraordinary evidence is available under controlled conditions, science cannot accept the claims as proven. But neither should one discount that such claims could still be true! Science is not the final word on all of life.

I thought I should also cover Google search results for the term, Sathya Sai Baba.

All the ten first page results for the above term are positive (Sai organization sites, devotee sites) or neutral (wikipedia).

The second page of results has two anti-Sai site links with the other eight being positive or neutral.

So for general Google search users for Swami the rankings seem fair to me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sathya Sai Super (Tertiary Care) Free Hospitals - Lighthouses of hope and goodness

Here's a slightly edited extract from a Sai devotee correspondent's recent email (with approval from the correspondent):

Here I would like to narrate a personal experience when I went to deposit a cheque sent by a devotee friend to the (Sri Sathya Sai) Central Trust office (in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India) opposite the South Indian canteen. As I was asked by my friend to deposit the cheque into the "corpus fund" I was asked to wait for my turn. Meanwhile one "visibly" poor man entered. He seemed to be little confused and unsure. I thought he mistook the Central Trust office for canteen token issuing counter. He was holding a 100 rupee note in his hand. Looking at the 100 rupee note and his physical appearance this man reminded me of  Lord Krishna's childhood friend "Sudama" ( also known as Kuchela in South India). He came up to me and asked (in Hindi) "where is the place to make a deposit to Swami's Trust". I told him you have come to the right place. As I was seated next to him and as we waited for our turn, he started a small conversation. He said he is from a very remote village in the Indian state of Bihar. I asked him how did he come to Puttaparthi. He said his son had a heart related problem and was successfully operated in the Super Speciality Hospital. He continued, "such a big operation was done absolutely free of charge. This hospital should exist for eternity and beyond so I am offering this 100 rupees which is from my heart and I know it is nothing compared to the huge expenses incurred in running this hospital but I feel it is my responsibility to offer something to Swami's hospital". I really had tears seeing his devotion and more importantly the "impact" made by Swami's hospitals on the poor and downtrodden. He indeed is a very "responsible" devotee who took pains to find the office and made sure his hard earned money went to the continuation of Swami's mission and in spreading His message of love.

--- end extract ---

Whether one likes or dislikes Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the example set by him and his movement, of setting up and successfully running magnificent NGO (non-governmental organization) hospitals providing free medical care including very sophisticated tertiary care, is a really bright spot in human caring for the marginalized. Here is the wiki page of the Sathya Sai 'super' hospitals, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Sathya_Sai_Super_Speciality_Hospital.

That these are "flourishing" even after the passing away of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, as per the media report referred in my recent post, Media article praises Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust for flourishing Sai institutions, is really great news. They can be inspiring examples to other religious and charitable institutions worldwide in that such models can be setup and somehow, good and charitable people including voluntary part-time staff as well as full-time reasonably paid (or sometimes even poorly paid) dedicated staff turn up to run/support these activities. Of course, there may be scope for only a limited number of such institutions in an area as they are dependent on funding and other support from charity inclined people in the community. But my point is that even having one such NGO tertiary care hospital providing free service of decent quality in each state (or, in future sometime, each district) of India (and the world), would be creating lighthouses of hope and goodness for the whole populace.

I should also mention that NGO operated primary health care institutions as well as secondary health care institutions (like general hospitals) offering free service of decent quality also contribute significantly in spreading hope and goodness in the community. However, it is tertiary care hospitals (super speciality hospitals) offering free service of decent quality that awe everybody right from the poor who receive the services to chief ministers and prime ministers who find it difficult to ensure that such services of decent quality are provided in government run health institutions. And so it is these "super hospitals" offering free service of decent quality that become the lighthouse symbols of hope and goodness among the populace.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Media article praises Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust for flourishing Sai institutions

I was very pleased to read this article, dated July 23rd 2014, From crisis to credibility: How Sathya Sai’s trust turned around the fate in three years,
http://daily.bhaskar.com/article/NAT-TOP-from-crisis-to-credibility-how-sathya-sais-trust-turned-around-the-fate-in-three-4688779-PHO.html.

Some notes/small extracts and comments:

Widespread speculations about future of Sai institutions three years ago (at Swami's Mahasamadhi time); many thought these institutions would not survive.

[Ravi: I think the above words convey quite truthfully what most of the non Sai-devotee world would have thought at the time of our beloved Lord's Mahasamadhi. Perhaps even some of us in the Sathya Sai devotee fraternity may have harboured doubts about the future of these magnificent institutions focused on service to humanity.]

...

"The institutions built by Sai are flourishing and the credit goes to Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust (SSSCT)."

[Ravi: Having seen a lot of nonsense that the media indulged in regarding SSSCT immediately after the Mahasamadhi, I am overjoyed to read such praise from the media. I feel that all of us in the Sathya Sai devotee fraternity must be grateful to the SSSCT for steering the institutions founded by Bhagawan which were under their care, through a very traumatic period. I pray that Bhagawan continues to shower His Grace on them and their efforts towards keeping these institutions in good order.]

...

Embracing transparency, refusing cash donations, internal audit etc. were the measures of SSSCT that gave positive results and earned the continued support of devotees.

[Ravi: Interesting analysis. In today's globalized world, accountability and transparency are the buzz words for any institution to earn respect. As an Indian who has crossed 50 years of age I am amazed at the level of accountability and transparency that is being ushered in/forced upon various sectors/people in India, including top ministers and top bureaucrats. Two or three decades ago, this level of accountability and transparency was unimaginable. To take just one example, the Right to Information Act (RTI) enables any Indian citizen to get unprecedented level of information from even top govt. agencies including the Prime Minister's Office! That was just unthinkable in the 80s and 90s.

I think in today's Internet connected world people expect transparency and accountability from charitable and spiritual institutions too. That SSSCT is being recognized in the media for "embracing transparency" is excellent news.]

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fascinating phenomenon of impersonators of famous divine figures like Jesus Christ and Sathya Sai Baba

Last updated on August 3rd 2014

Some recent incidents led me to refresh my knowledge and also dig up a little on the fascinating phenomenon of impersonators of famous divine figures. Let me start by mentioning some such cases.

Impersonator of Lord Krishna

This is mentioned in the Bhagavatham (Hindu holy scripture which has the history of Krishna and more). One interpretation of the Bhagavatham section related to this impersonator, available on the net, is the ISKCON related one here: http://vedabase.net/sb/10/66/en1. King Paundraka started believing that he was the true Vaasudeva (a name of Krishna), the divine master descended to earth! His impersonation went so far as to result in a challenge, through a messenger, to the real Lord Krishna as follows: "I am the one and only Lord Vaasudeva, and there is no other. It is I who have descended to this world to show mercy to the living beings. Therefore give up Your false name."!!! [BTW Lord Krishna is the son of Vasudeva and hence one of Lord Krishna's names is Vaasudeva - the longer a denoting son of. But in the link above it uses the spelling Vasudeva to refer to Lord Krishna (and not his father).]

Paundraka further says, "O Satvata, give up my personal symbols, which out of foolishness You now carry, and come to me for shelter. If You do not, then You must give me battle." The real Lord Krishna and the (king's court) assembly laughs when the messenger of Paundraka delivers this message.

The real Lord Krishna then takes up the battle challenge of Paundraka. Prior to the battle the real Krishna notes that Paundraka has dressed up like himself (Krishna) and laughs at the impersonation. Later Krishna kills Paundraka in battle by cutting off his head with his Sudarshana Chakra. But the fascinating spiritual aspect is that the Bhagavatham states that Paundraka (his subtle body/suukshma sharira) on his death, merged with Lord Krishna! "By constantly meditating upon the Supreme Lord, Paundraka shattered all his material bonds. Indeed, by imitating Lord Krishna's appearance, O King, he ultimately became Krishna conscious."

Some of the events related to divine masters, especially the Avatars, are very strange even to spiritually well versed people.

Impersonators of Lord Jesus Christ

Wikipedia has a fairly long list of people who claim to be (second coming of) Lord Jesus Christ here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_claimed_to_be_Jesus

Another interesting aspect about Lord Jesus Christ is that there are accounts of other miracle workers contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous to Jesus. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_background_of_the_New_Testament:

The Talmud provides two examples of such Jewish miracle workers around the time of Jesus. Mishnah Ta'anit 3:8 tells of "Honi the Circledrawer" who, in the middle of the 1st century BCE, was famous for his ability to successfully pray for rain. On one occasion when God did not answer his prayer, he drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed God that he would not move until it rained. When it began to drizzle, Honi told God that he was not satisfied and expected more rain; it then began to pour. He explained that he wanted a calm rain, at which point the rain calmed to a normal rain.
Mishnah Berakot 5:5 tells of Hanina ben Dosa, who in the generation following Jesus cured Gamaliel's son by prayer (compare with Matthew 8: 5-13). A later story (In the Babylonian Talmud, Berakot 33a) tells of a lizard that used to injure passers-by. Hanina ben Dosa came and put his heel over the hole; the lizard bit him and died.
Such men were respected for their relationship with God but not considered especially saintly; their abilities were seen as one more unknowable thing and not deemed a result of any ultra-strict observance of Jewish law. These men were sometimes doubted, often respected, and even (according to Geza Vermes) addressed by their followers as "lord" — but never considered "saviors" or "messiahs."

--- end wiki extract ---

Impersonators of Sathya Sai Baba

I think the most famous such impersonator so far, at least in recent years, is Bala Sai Baba of Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, http://www.sribalasai.com/. Then we have Nepali Sai Baba, http://sanjaysai.org.np/. Both of these persons are look-alikes of our Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

Besides the look-alikes there are reports of many non-look-alikes who claim to have some divine aspects/powers which are in some way related to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. For example, some claim that some divine powers have been bestowed on them by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and/or that they are able to connect to/interact with him in some way (the latter are commonly referred to as mediums/channels/intermediaries).

What can one make of this phenomenon of divine impersonators?

Firstly, some of the divine impersonators mentioned above are or were benign and contributed to spread of spiritual values (worship of God, love, joy, peace, service to fellow human being, brotherhood etc.) in society. So, IMHO, they are a positive force for society and this contribution of theirs must be welcomed. But it must also be said that some were initially considered to be benign but later became horrifying figures. The foremost near-contemporary example of such horrifying figures is Jim Jones, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones, who claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus and others, and who led his followers to commit mass suicide (over 900 people died) in 1978. Another such near-contemporary horrifying figure is David Koresh, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Koresh, who led 80 odd followers of his to their death in 1993 by defying USA law enforcement authorities which ended up in a deadly armed conflict with them.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. Once divine figures become well known through their miracles and powerful transformational teachings, they inspire large number of people. Some of these inspired people may be getting so taken up by these divine figures that they may start deeply worshiping the divine figure and also identify themselves with the divine figure. That may result in some of them, especially those who consciously/sub-consciously desire paranormal powers, acquiring some spiritual/divine/paranormal powers similar to what the famous divine figure had/has. Some of these people may also start identifying themselves with the same physical features of the divine figure they worship resulting in the look-alike impersonators of famous divine figures.

A tricky and sensitive question is whether such impersonators (look-alikes and non-look-alikes) have the full power that the famous divine figure had/has. I think this gets answered over time. If the impersonators/mediums are able to demonstrate significant divine/miraculous powers consistently over a long period of time and also demonstrate mastery of spiritual knowledge through their teachings/discourses, they will, in all probability, acquire a big following and a big reputation. However, no impersonator of Krishna or Jesus acquired the same heights of fame that Krishna or Jesus acquired.

On Sathya Sai Baba impersonators/mediums, my humble view is that coming anywhere close to, let alone matching, the impact of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba will be an impossible task for any impersonator/medium of Sathya Sai Baba. Only a future avatar like Prema Sai Baba may be able to match or exceed that.